5. Juli 2019
Designed by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group and FREAKS freearchitects, MÉCA creates a frame for the celebration of contemporary art, film and performances, giving Bordeaux the gift of art-filled public space from the waterfront to the city’s new urban room
Centrally located between the River Garonne and Saint-Jean train station, the new 18,000 m2 Maison de l’Économie Créative et de la Culture en Aquitaine, MÉCA, brings together three regional arts agencies – FRAC for contemporary art, ALCA for cinema, literature and audiovisuals, and OARA for performing arts – into a loop, cementing the UNESCO-listed city as the epicenter for culture. BIG and FREAKS were selected to design the new home for the region’s contemporary art and culture by the Regional Council of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in 2012. MÉCA was inaugurated with BIG Founding Partner Bjarke Ingels, Associate Architects FREAKS, Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region President Alain Rousset and the Minister of Culture Franck Riester, with the Presidents and Directors of FRAC, ALCA and OARA in attendance.
“The multiplicity of the flows and functions of MÉCA, which welcomes both the actors of the regional creative ecosystem on the one hand and activities that enjoy the public on the other hand, makes the building a dynamic tool to stimulate creation. BIG perfectly understood the complexity of grouping three cultural institutions, the circulation between professionals and the general public, and the insertion of the building within Bordeaux.” Alain Rousset, President, Regional Council of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
The building is conceived as a single loop of cultural institutions and public space by extruding the pavement of the promenade to become the ramp that leads into the urban living room, the façade with glimpses into the stage towers of OARA and the offices of ALCA, and the rooftop enclosing the sky-lit galleries of FRAC.
“When a region or a city invests millions in a major new cultural institution, it often ends up benefiting only the informed few that already have an interest in the arts. Not only does MÉCA spill its activities into the public realm and the urban room, but the public is also invited to walk around, through, above and below the new cultural gateway. By inviting the arts into the city and the city into the arts, MÉCA will provide opportunities for new hybrids of cultural and social life beyond the specific definitions of its constituent parts.” Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner & Creative Director, BIG.
A series of steps and ramps lead the public directly into the 1,100 m2 outdoor urban room at the core of MÉCA, creating a porous institution for visitors to roam freely between the Quai de Paludate street to the river promenade. A 7m high MÉCA sign illuminates the space with white LED lights, like a modern chandelier at the scale of the urban room.
“The urban room is at once a frame for the artwork, a stage for the performances, a screening room for the media collections and most perhaps most importantly, an open room for the urban life of Bordeaux to invade and engage with the arts. Giant windows overlooking the urban room offers views to the dance studio of OARA and on the opposite end, an inclined mirror reflects the lobby below. The visitors are almost participating in an installation, just by being there. In addition, large bleachers on either side of the building invites people to hang out and enjoy amazing views of the River Garonne and the city.” Jakob Sand, Partner, BIG.
During special occasions, MÉCA’s outdoor spaces can be transformed into a stage for concerts and theatrical spectacles or an extended gallery for sculptures and other art installations. A permanent bronze sculpture depicting a half-head of Hermes by French artist Benoît Maire intersects with the entrance on the riverside, inviting visitors to reflect on the contemporary culture of the region.
“Benoît’s Hermes head is placed right where the big public space cuts through the building, almost as if a giant block has been pushed through and half the head has been removed along with half of the building. The piece of the head that is missing is also the piece of the building that is missing. The missing pieces are maybe the most interesting parts for the building because this is where all the public events and activities can happen, and for the sculpture because that’s the part that is left open for people’s interpretation.” Bjarke Ingels.
Upon entering MÉCA from the ground floor, visitors arrive at the lobby where they can relax in the spiral pit or dine at the restaurant Le CREM, furnished with red furniture and cork chairs designed by BIG in reference to the city known for wine.
“The three regional entities composing the program are idiomatic to the French public way of supporting and promoting culture all over the territory. Working on the MÉCA building in Bordeaux is a great occasion to cross views and balance between international references and local issues.” Guillaume Aubry, Cyril Gauthier and Yves Pasquet, Founding Partners, FREAKS freearchitects.
A giant periscope by the restaurant and elevators allows visitors to see the activity in the outdoor urban room and vise-versa, creating an indoor-outdoor dialogue. On the same ground floor, those with tickets can enjoy performances in OARA’s 250-seat theatre featuring flexible seating configurations and acoustic systems optimized by an all-black checkerboard panel of concrete, wood and perforated metal. Upstairs, filmgoers can view screenings at ALCA’s red-accented 80-seat cinema or visit the two production offices and project incubation area. FRAC occupies the upper floors with 7m high exhibition spaces, production studios for artists, storage facilities, 90-seat auditorium and café. The 850 m2 public roof terrace serves as a flexible extension to the exhibition spaces, allowing future large-scale art installations and performances to be placed outdoors amid views of the city and the Basilica of St. Michael. MÉCA’s façade is composed almost entirely of 4,800 prefabricated concrete panels interspersed with windows of various sizes to control the amount of light entering inside and to create a sense of transparency. The concrete slabs, which weigh up to 1.6 tons, are sandblasted to expose its raw qualities and to texture the surface with the local sandstone of Bordeaux. Yellow granules for brightness and warmth radiate the building in the sun and integrates MÉCA as a familiar yet new vernacular sight to the city.
Images: Laurian Ghinitoiu (10); Florent Michel (1)